New survey data on voter confidence

The below is from the public release of some new survey data on voter confidence and opinions about electronic voting.

New Survey on Voter Confidence Shows Disturbing Trends

On the eve of the midterm elections, a survey commissioned by the University of Southern California’s Annenberg Center for Communication, suggests a significant decline in voter confidence that their vote will be counted accurately. The poll also shows sharp differences in voter confidence along racial and party lines.

The survey, led by USC Annenberg Center Senior Fellow and Co-director of the Caltech/MIT Voting Technology Project Michael Alvarez, found that there has been a significant decline in confidence among voters from 2005 to 2006 that their vote in the 2004 election was counted accurately, strongly suggesting a concern that their vote in 2006 may be mishandled. African Americans are currently less confident than whites on this issue.

As more precincts move to electronic voting, the study also found:
– The public thinks that electronic voting machines are prone to unintentional failures and agreed that they increase the potential for fraud.
– Roughly one-third of respondents did not have an opinion about the potential benefits or liabilities of electronic voting systems.
– The public views electronic voting as making voting easier for people with disabilities.

Interviews were conducted from October 26 – October 31, 2006 among a nationally representative sample of 1084 adults, aged 18 and older, including 156 Non-Hispanic African Americans. The question posed to likely voters was “How confident are you that your ballot in the November of 2004 presidential contest between George Bush and John Kerry was counted as you intended?

In the survey, 75.1% of likely voters said they were confident their vote was counted correctly in 2004, 21.9% said they were not confident, the remainder didn’t know. This is compared to results from a similar question on voter confidence posed to likely voters in March of 2005. In that survey, 88% were confident, and 11% were not confident. The comparison represents an almost 13% decline in voter confidence, and nearly doubles there percentage of respondents expressing no confidence that there vote would be counted correctly.

Racial patterns also show an interesting trend: Only 18% of white registered voters stated a net lack of confidence in the recent survey, while a whopping 44% of African American registered voters expressed a net lack of confidence. Although the data indicates that the declines in confidence from March 2005 to October 2006 for white and African American voters are comparable in magnitude (white confidence has fallen by 13 points, African American confidence by 9 points).

There is also a “partisan-confidence gap” among Democrats, Republicans, and Independents regarding whether their votes were counted accurately in 2004. In the recent survey, 90% of self-identified Republican registered voters expressed confidence compared to 65% of self-identified Democrats and 75% of self-identified Independents. In the March 2005 survey, virtually all self-identified Republicans (97%) were confident, but only 86% of self-identified Democrats and 87% of self-identified Independents were confident. This shows a decline in confidence among all party voters, but most dramatically among Democrats and Independents.

Alvarez, a political scientist who conducted the study with Thad E. Hall of the University of Utah and Morgan Llewellyn of California Institute of Technology, sees that a large majority of voters are confident that their votes will be counted accurately. However, there remains a sizable and growing segment of the population that may have concerns regarding whether their votes will be counted accurately. Given the likelihood of a close election outcome, this confidence gap is likely to remain in some form through the next presidential election cycle. Even if there are no problems in this election with voting technologies and the counting of ballots, voters may transform disbelief that the candidate they supported lost into doubt regarding the integrity of the voting system. Such a “sore loser” effect will likely persist through 2008.